Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Poor folk" don't mind paying

A standard operating procedure and possibly a little known fact:  CitySquare asks "customers," those who come to us seeking relief and assistance, to make a financial investment in the services and processes that contribute to their own life-improvement. 

For example, our health services division requires a modest co-pay/application fee to receive medical and pharmacy services.  Our public interest law firm asks for an application fee and a modest client fee when cases are accepted.  In our resource center, social work services asks for a very small application fee as well, in this case just $5.  The same policy is now extending across the organization. 

Our neighbors have been making significant contributions to our overall work for years.  And, it is important to note just here, our low-income friends are almost universally eager to do their part to support our work because of its proven benefit in the community.

For us, it is a matter of principle. 

We believe that charity limits people. 

Community involvement and investment is the beginning of liberation and an important aspect in the realization of personal empowerment.  Expectations that lead us to shared resources can transform communities. 

Here's an interesting statistic:  for several years now low-income neighbors have contributed twice as much to our work as have churches from their operating budgets!  Don't look down on "the poor," as if they are doing nothing to change their circumstances!  Poor folks don't mind paying for value added to life. 

People who bad mouth the poor, claiming they live life with a sense of selfish entitlement, don't have an accurate understanding of just how much those at the bottom of our national economy actually do in an effort to improve their own lives. 

So, why do we charge these fees? 

We do it because we need help from those closest to us to continue our mission.

We ask for an investment because the "buy in" from the poor makes all of our efforts and services more effective.  It is a fact:  "skin in the game" produces much better outcomes.  Investors feel free to comment, critique and lend a helping hand to us to see our performance improve. 
We engage our neighbors by asking them to contribute something to support our work because we know that such investments transforms them from "charity cases" into customers with all the rights and duties inherent in such a reciprocal relationship.  I often tell our staff that if folks don't feel as if they can complain about our services and performance, then something is wrong. 

We are in the city for good.  And we are asking our neighbors to invest in their own future and that of the entire community.  Change costs us all.  We make no apologies for believing that the poorest among us have something to offer and invest, including their money.


rcorum said...

This is an excellent post, and it raises a question in my mind. What about the Federal Government when it gives out money with no such arrangement as yours? It our church we offer counseling to many poor people and we always ask the clients to pay something. If there is no investment there seems to be little incentive to stick with the counseling. I the the model of CitySquare leads to empowerment whereas many Federal programs seem to lead to entitlement.

Anonymous said...

R Corum:

I sympathize with your concern. But I do not see any other option. If the Fed's object is to provide just enough (not really) to get by - a $620 disability payment, $250 of food stamps - to pepople who have shown they don't have the ability to make a living - then how does the gov't ask for something in return? I do not like simple hand outs. I think they should be a last ditch option. I think they do breed a sense of resignation and helplessness. But what other option is there, except the even more unacceptable flat refusal to help?